Primarily Yours: the Grilled Cheeses of Wisconsin

Here it is the day after Tuesday, and it turns out that the Wisconsin primary really was a big cheese.

It turns out that having Governor Scott Walker on your side was a good thing for Senator Ted Cruz and the hard-to-figure-out-who-belongs-to-it GOP establishment in their first really serious bid to stop Donald Trump.

It turns out — if you believe Cruz — that this primary, which Cruz won by 13 percent (48 to 33 by last count), was, while not only impressive but also  “a turning point” or a “pivot point,” as some experts would have it. Or it may be just two weeks until the New York Primary.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders further muddied the waters by scoring an impressive win over Hillary Clinton, which prompted the experts and Sanders to claim that he now had the big mo, a big thing in presidential campaigns, as in having momentum.  Here, too, there is the anticipation and the wait for the next big thing, the New York primary.

The Wisconsin primary may be all these things — pivotal, momentum-changing, a turning point, the final shoe to drop finally on Trump. Maybe this time Trump’s gaffes and outspoken bloopers (turning off women by the millions with his abortion comments) finally caught up with him.  Maybe Ted Cruz has the big mo too, although it’s not likely that he can catch up with Trump in terms of delegates before the GOP gathering in Cleveland.

Cruz, it should be remembered, is nobody’s darling among his peers in the Senate. While he has picked up supporters that are motivated by being repelled by Trump, nobody except for his family has so far fallen in love with him. What does appear to have emerged is a better picture of Cruz, the candidate, which is that he is not a demagogue but an ideologue, who appeals to the tiny government faction of the party as well as its Christian evangelist side, the side that will fight to the bitter end against Obamacare, gay marriage, planned parenthood and so forth.

It’s fair to perhaps take away a sigh of relief among the voting populace as this little spring break in primaries arrives and take a look backward as to how we got here.

More and more, we see that we have arrived at a juncture in American election politics where the process has become circus-like, a kind of long-running, regularly scheduled television show which was taken by surprise by the hostile takeover of the GOP race by Trump, himself a celebrated developer and reality show host.

While Clinton — beleaguered at times by her e-mail troubles and her status as being anointed the front runner from the beginning — has struggled once again to live up to expectations in her campaign, dogged by the surprising insurgent campaign of Sanders, the Republicans have put on a mini-series of thrills and spills, debates and election results.

There have been all kinds of commentary on the campaign from the print media as old sages and veteran commentators on both sides weigh in every week on the dangers of Trump, the collapse of the Republican party, the strength of feeling the Bern and so on.

But this has been a campaign that has been almost entirely conducted — in the popular imagination and mind — on television.  The theme, to be sure, has been anti-politics-as-usual on both sides, to varying degrees, but mainly, the campaign has been a television show, reported on by television media, with loud noises in the background on social media, which Trump has engaged with surprising ease, commandeering Twitter and Instagram.

The question in terms of experiencing the campaign this way is one of authenticity.  Look at the screen. It seems a strangely fantastical, unreal experience that follows certain patterns of scripted and unscripted dramas. The campaign so far has been full of debates, sponsored by networks who call themselves neutral, but actually are called Fox and MSNBC to the right and left, as well as CNN, and the major networks. The Trump explosion has been a boon for all concerned, except when Trump chose not to appear.

Debates led up to primaries and caucuses, and in all cases — the aftermath of the debates and the results of the elections, followed a familiar pattern — someone would have a battle at a debate or embarrass themselves (I refer to small hands, little Marco, the failure of Bush and the second-tier candidates).

There would be an election, won, more often than not by Trump. In both cases, the television media, and the talk show hosts and experts, strategist and consultants and white-haired men and women from campaigns past, would go over the results and explain to us what happened, and then make predictions (most of the time, wrong) about what would happen next.  They appeared like the priests after a consular election in Ancient Rome, brought out to slaughter a chicken and read the entrails for omens of the future.

There was nothing authentic about any of this, and none of the candidates appeared to me to be either an embodiment or a representative of the people who would decide their fate in the ballot box.  What Trump managed to do in at least the case of his rallies was articulate the resentments and failed hopes of a particular segment of voters by speaking in ways that seemed to speak to their anger and feelings — and by speaking, not in tongues, but phrases that he hurled out into the crowds like firebombs. Sanders also managed to do something similar, although without the rancor or the divisiveness that characterized Trump’s most outrageous statements.

Although Cruz would like us to believe, as he most certainly does, that he is now the anointed one (or will be at the convention), chances are we are still in for another long slog through more primaries.

The question arises, to paraphrase Edward G. Robinson in “Little Caesar,” regarding Trump: “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Donald?”

Probably not, but it could be the beginning of the end. Nevertheless, no one has gotten rich in this campaign making predictions about the fall of Trump.

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Fri, 24 Feb 2017 23:46:11 -0500

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